California Legislative History – It’s all online, right?

Here’s a very useful article from the January/February 2011 issue of FORUM, the magazine of the Consumer Attorneys of California.  It is useful, in particular, for pointing out that offline research is often needed, even for new laws.

Budget-Minded Research: California Legislative History

By Carolina Rose

. . . unfortunately, some researchers make the mistake of thinking that if the legislative history is not available on the free website or from Westlaw or LexisNexis, that the records simply do not exist.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are many other records that are not included in these databases that can be obtained from other offline sources and that the courts routinely rely on.  For example, in one case . . . the court relied on two records to support its plain meaning of the statute: 1) An unpublished letter from Pacific Gas and Electric Company dated March 8, 1974, found in Assemblyman Charles Warren’s author’s bill file, and 2) a subsequent bill version apparently incorporating the amendment that had been pro[posed and explained in the letter.”

Citing 2 Cal. App. 4th 206, 222-23

. . .


In short, free online California legislative history research from 1993 to current can be a boon to the budget-minded researcher, but it can also give a false sense of security. . . . the absence of valuable legislative history materials from the free online website or the costly, subscription-based online services does not mean that they do  not exist. . . .

The author of the article is co-founder and president of Legislative Research Inc. (LRI) (and a SLS alumna); in the article she summarizes the steps involved in compiling a legislative history and explains the added research a company such as hers can accomplish with feet on the ground — offline — in Sacramento.   You’ll want to know about such offline documents  so as, as she puts it, to not be “blind-sided by opposing counsel’s use of them.”

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